What is Carbon?

Carbon is important to all forms of life. It makes up less than 1 per cent of all matter, but everything that lives or has lived contains this element. The bodies of all living things are made up of compounds containing carbon, and where it is found in any quantity in the earth, life has probably exited.

Plants get carbon from the carbon dioxside gas of the air and use it in building up their roots, stems, and leaves. Animals get it for food from plants. At the same time, carbon dioxside is being returned to the air by animals when they breathe, and by plants when they decay. Of all the form of carbon, the best known, and perhaps the most valuable to man, is coal.

Coal is about four-fifths carbon, the rest being hydrogen and other elements. The attraction between carbon and oxygen is almost like that between a magnet and iron. This is one of the reasons why coal is so valuable. When coal is put into fire, its element, particulary its carbon, burn, or combine with the oxygen in the air.

This burning produces het energy, which is used by man in many ways. Carbon is found in forms that vary a great deal. Two of its most different forms are graphite and diamonds. Graphite is soft and slippery. It makes an excellent lubricant for machinery. When it is mixed with clay and hardened enough, it is used as the ‘’lead’’ in lead pencils. Diamonds are the hardest substance known.

Carbon atoms can attach themselves to each other and to the atoms of other elements. They combine in many different ways to form many carbon compounds. One of the simplest ones is carbon dioxside, which is given off into the atmosphere when carbon burns where there is not enough oxygen.Carbon does not combine easily with other elements or compounds. However, it does react freely with them at high temperatures. 

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